Something important happened at Pride in London this year.
Decades of creeping corporate takeover and the yearly spectacle of pump-primed profiteering had all but stifled principled campaigning for LGBT rights. The disenchanted stopped attending the march; others persisted, frustrated by the lack of political focus.
But on 27 June, a seismic change took place. Thousands of trade unionists, campaigners and students converged at the junction of Baker and Blandford streets to create a formidable Pride Solidarity Contingent opposed to oppression, exploitation, privatisation and austerity. Some 50 banners carried by ex-miners, disability activists, teachers, train drivers, nurses and council workers mingled with magnificent placards, sponsored by our regional TUC, which proclaimed: LGBT RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS; LGBT PEOPLE NEED DECENT HOUSING: CAP RENTS NOT BENEFITS; LGBT PEOPLE NEED OUR NHS: NO CUTS.
Deafening cheers greeted us as we marched. It was thrilling. But how did this come about?
Anyone who has seen the hit film ‘Pride’ knows that 30 years ago, South Wales miners led Pride, in return for the solidarity they received during their year-long strike against Thatcher’s pit-closure plans. I was there as a member of Lesbians and Gay Support the Miners (LGSM). We were determined that Pride ‘85 would be based not on identity but political solidarity: lesbian, gay and bisexual rights were civil liberties to be supported by all. (Trans rights came later.) Pride ‘85 was organised and run by political and community activists. The few ‘businesses’ involved were mainly gay newspapers, which were regarded as community resources along with publicly funded support and pressure groups.
As the film’s fans will know, NUM backing ensured that the TUC and the Labour Party adopted LGBT rights and began the journey towards greater legal equality. In those days it was legal to sack LGBT people because of their sexuality. Most teachers and others who worked with children had to stay in the closet. The age of consent for gay male sex was still 21 and marriage was out of the question. LGBT people were routinely evicted from council homes when partners died. Thanks to a liberation movement fighting tooth and nail from the streets up over three generations, such rights have now been won in the UK.
LGSM re-formed last year in response to the political enthusiasm that the film ignited, especially amongst young people facing tuition fees, the housing crisis and zero-hours contracts. LGSM members spoke at events, took our banner on demonstrations and reproduced our ‘Pits and Perverts’ t-shirts to fundraise for causes like the London Living Wage Campaign and the victims of the Soma mining disaster in Turkey. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed.
The Pride in London (PiL) Board was no exception, despite its dependence on sponsors with dubious ethics such as Barclays, Citibank and Starbucks. Perhaps because of LGSM’s ‘celebrity’ quality, we were invited to lead the whole parade with miners’ banners and a marching band and gay choir from South Wales. But we never set out to be a historical re-enactment society. We wanted to march with the trade unions. PiL told us to limit our contingent to 200. We begged and bellowed to bring our supporters with us. But PiL, the chair of which is David Cameron’s head of political broadcasting, said ‘No’ and we got moved back to Block C. A cry of outrage from many ensued but LGSM went all out to make Block C the new Head of Parade. And I think we succeeded. One proud moment was when former MP Sian James and Anne Scargill, Women Against Pit Closures founder, joined forces with sixth-formers from Pontefract to sing ‘Solidarity Forever’ alongside strikers fighting privatisation at the National Gallery!
Our community now faces a challenge. What should Pride look like in 2016? I believe we need to fight now for a truly accountable People’s Pride which stand up for all LGBT people, regardless of economic or refugee status, nationality, age or dis/ability. We must push back the power of the corporations, demand full accountability and and end to austerity so we can live without fear of homelessness, benefit sanctions or deportation. Cameron may have introduced equal marriage but, under the cosh of cuts, this is just pinkwashing. And laws are reversible if bigots like UKIP get into power. We need proper jobs, a fully funded health service and social care which keeps everyone safe. We need everything Thatcher hated and everything Cameron is trying to destroy.
My most precious memory from Pride in London 2015 is this: a bunch of glittery, facepainted school students from south London. I had no idea what their sexualities were. It was the words they shouted that inspired me:
L! G! B! T!
FIGHT AGAINST AUSTERITY!
L! G! S! M!
FIGHT THE TORY SCUM AGAIN!
This article was first published in Diva magazine in August 2015